HEADLINES:

Trump orders more Iran curbs as Saudi readies attack evidence

US President Donald Trump departs after presenting NBA Hall of Fame player Jerry West with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the Oval office of the White House in Washington, US, September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
2019-09-18

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SULAIMANI — President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he ordered a major increase in sanctions on Iran in the latest US move to pressure Tehran, which US officials say probably carried out a crippling weekend attack on Saudi oil facilities.

Trump gave no explanation in a brief Twitter posting announcing the order, but the initiative follows repeated US assertions that the Islamic Republic was behind Saturday’s attack on the kingdom, a close US ally.

“I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran!,” he wrote.

Iran, however, again denied involvement in the Sept. 14 raids, which hit the world’s biggest crude processing facility and initially knocked out half of Saudi production.

“They want to impose maximum ... pressure on Iran through slander,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said.

“We don’t want conflict in the region ... Who started the conflict?” he added, blaming Washington and its Gulf allies for the war in Yemen.

Yemen’s Houthi movement, an ally of Iran battling a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition for more than four years, has claimed responsibility and said it used drones to assault state oil company Aramco’s sites.

However, the Saudi Defense Ministry said it would use a news conference at 1430 GMT to present “material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Iranian regime’s involvement in the terrorist attack”.

Whether Iran or an Iran-aligned group carried out Saturday’s attack, it still exposed the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure and threw down a gauntlet to the United States, which wants to curb Tehran’s influence in the region.

Evidence showing Iranian responsibility, if made public, could pressure Riyadh and Washington into a response, though both nations were stressing the need for caution.

Trump has said he does not want war and is coordinating with Gulf and European states.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the hit on the world’s biggest crude exporter was a “real test of the global will” to confront subversion of the international order.

His envoy to London, Prince Khalid bin Bander, told the BBC the attack was “almost certainly” Iranian-backed, however: “We’re trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”

(NRT Digital Media/Reuters)